To pay for Bangor arena, consider passing the hat

By Michael J. McCarty, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 13, 2010, at 7:23 p.m.

It appears that the Bangor City Council is getting ready to borrow at least $50 million to construct a new arena.

Since the plan is to pay back the arena loan using the city’s share of Hollywood Slots revenue, some have suggested that this project will therefore not be built on the backs of the city’s taxpayers.

There is little logic to this notion.

If not spent on the arena, slots revenue — if indeed Hollywood Slots continues to prosper as expected — could be better used for much needed property tax relief. Or perhaps to continue funding higher priority items such as road upkeep or increased law enforcement to combat the growing crime problem we are facing in our city.

I urge the citizens of Bangor to take a second look before allowing our elected officials to rush headlong into a project that we can ill afford as it is currently proposed.

In these tough economic times, sensible people are seeking to spend and borrow less; sensible lawmakers at all levels of government are trying to do the same. The governor and Legislature are dealing with millions in budget cuts to make ends meet. Considering that some of these cuts, particularly in education, could likely affect municipal budgets as well, our city must be very careful about additional spending at this time. With the specter of increasing federal taxes looming in Washington, our citizens cannot afford higher local taxes.

We should be asking those in city government the following regarding the arena proposal:

Previous versions of the arena project suggested the removal of the existing auditorium, presumably because it is old and beyond repair. Why has a renovation of the Auditorium and Civic Center suddenly resurfaced as part of the plan? An admission, perhaps, that the old building has some life left in it after all?

I have to presume that the city has done all the necessary market research in terms of the kinds of acts, athletic teams (e.g., Lumberjacks, Blue Ox, Lumberjacks II, etc.), attractions, events, etc., which would agree to come to Bangor to perform and generate revenue for our shiny new arena. Our elected officials must be prepared to elaborate on all the commitments the city has received thus far that have convinced them that this is a project worth asking the city’s taxpayers to underwrite to the tune of $50 million or more.

A new, multimillion-dollar arena would be used and enjoyed by people from the entire region. It is only reasonable to expect that before undertaking such a project, that city government would seek firm commitments from other cities and towns in the region for some kind of cost sharing. Before committing the taxpayers of Bangor to such an expense, the council should be prepared to explain all the contracts (if any) the city has secured thus far from other surrounding jurisdictions, which will ensure that Bangor’s citizens do not bear the full cost of this endeavor.

If the city borrows $50 million to fund this project, I would venture a guess that this would easily make a difference of hundreds of dollars to the average Bangor property owner’s tax bill each year for decades — either in higher taxes or in the loss of tax relief. People who relocate to outlying communities to escape the city’s high taxes will not generate much revenue for Bangor.

As a resident of Bangor for the past 36 years, I well realize the importance of our Bass Park infrastructure to the economy of our city and to our lifestyle as citizens of Bangor. It could well use a face-lift.

As a family, we needed to replace our old car last summer. We would have loved to buy that Mercedes, but we looked at our household budget and bought a Chevrolet. It gets the job done.

The council is expected to meet with the Arena Committee sometime in January to review the proposal. When it comes to a new regional facility such as the proposed arena, let’s make sure it will be funded fairly by all who will use it … or settle for something more modest that the taxpayers of this city can afford.

Michael J. McCarty is a resident of Bangor.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/13/opinion/to-pay-for-bangor-arena-consider-passing-the-hat/ printed on July 30, 2014